The Choice 2014 [Updated]

Catholics face an important choice in 2014 and in the years ahead.

Some of the comments and reactions to my post earlier this week on Pope Francis’s decision not to renew Cardinal Burke’s membership on the Congregation for Bishops revealed a disturbing trend to me, namely, the extent to which many Catholics have adopted an apprehensive attitude about the current pontiff.

pope-francis3Sure, I get it, it’s fun to be a cynic. It’s cool to be the one always predicting the next bad thing that’s going to happen, and being the one who is never surprised when it does.

Dissenting catholics have gotten really good at playing the role of the cynic for the past 30 years. Some priests, who shall remain nameless, have spent more time and energy complaining about the pope to the mainstream media than they have spent studying theology.

So I can understand why some orthodox catholics may be enjoying the novelty of being a papal skeptic. Certainly the media has done everything in its power to perpetuate the falsehood that Pope Francis is a liberal made in their own image. What I can’t understand is why Catholics, who say the media can’t be trusted and believe the media doesn’t “get” religion, continue to let the media form and influence their impression of who Pope Francis is!

We’re better than this. The Pope is not our president. We don’t have the right to say the current pope wasn’t our pick and we’re waiting around for the next guy. We must trust that when the cardinals chose Cardinal Brogoglio to be Pope, the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing. So let’s quit with the doom mongering. The church is a family. We don’t get to choose the members, and we scandalize the world when we air our dirty laundry in the site of others. Especially when the laundry isn’t dirty to begin with!

The more I read about Pope Francis, the more I am convinced that the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. Here’s what I mean:  the Vatican expert Sandro Magister paints a picture of a new pope not yet sure of what he wants to do. George Weigel and others have easily taken apart the media-driven meme that Pope Francis is a liberal, i.e. not orthodox. The Pope himself has preached against “adolescent progressivism”. The case of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, which so many liturgical traditionalists site as an example of Pope Francis’ supposed antagonism to the Latin Mass, is far from black-and-white when you examine the evidence.

Simply put, it’s just way too early to judge what the future holds when it comes to the new occupant of the Chair of Peter.

But here’s one thing I think I can safely say Pope Francis doesn’t tolerate: allowing liturgical rubrics and clericalism to keep us from the proclamation of the Gospel. I’m right with him on that one. Good liturgy and a healthy respect for clerics should lead us to a more passionate living out and witness to the Good News, not the opposite!  

And so while Pope Francis is no liberal, he also has no patience for traditional Catholics who let preferences and small-t traditions become a stumbling block to living out there faith fully.

If your love for the Extraordinary Form leads you to criticize your fellow Catholics who prefer the Novus Ordo instead of leading you to a more perfect life of charity, you’re doing it wrong.  If you’ve spent more time reading articles claiming that Pope Francis has condemned capitalism in his latest exhortation instead of actually reading what he wrote, you’re doing it wrong. And if you spend more time bemoaning the fact that so many people are misunderstanding the Pope when you could be doing something about it by leaving comments, posting Facebook messages and engaging people, you’re doing it wrong.

That’s why I say the soul of this papacy is up for grabs. If Pope Francis sees dissenting Catholics living more active lives of charity, showing more passion in their desire to fix the problems of the world, and being more vocal in the great debates of our time, what happens then? This is our opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, to show our compassion for the poor with concrete acts, to live our faith more authentically, to be more active in the public square, to show how much we care that we are catholic and how much that reality forms who we are and inspires what we do.

So which is it going to be? Are we going to spend the next few years wringing our hands worried to death that all the accomplishments of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict are about to be undone, or are we going to take Pope Francis up on his challenge and live the Gospel more fully every day, in plain sight?

That’s the choice we face in 2014 and always.

So let’s fight, let’s fight for the church. It’s the only one we’ve got.

UPDATE: I’m excited to see that this post continues to generate interest and dicussion, nearly a week after it was published (that’s a long time in blog years). Over the weekend Michael Potemra wrote a good essay on The Corner reflecting on the challenge I offer above. I think he puts it more succinctly than I when he writes: “Maybe the pope is as bad as you fear he is, maybe he isn’t. So what? The important question remains on the table: How then shall we live?

That’s the challenge I’m offering to all of us.

  • Jack McGrath

    Dear Mr. Peters, I resent your characterizing Catholics who have trouble with the Pope’s statements as people enjoying a novelty. It is very painful for us who have not in their lifetimes had to question what the Pope has said. I take no clue from the secular media and never have. I go to the source — granted they are translations. But if the translations are valid, I resent your claim that I am taking a clue from the media. I have read what the Pope has said and in some instances, question it. I am not taking issue with Extraordinary Form or Novus Ordinaire either. I resent you attributing this to not having charity. Your whole blog is an insult.

  • p

    “By their fruits you shall know them”

    Pope Francis has done othign aout pedophilia scandals made countless anti-Catholic public statements, is loved by the world.

    Hardly a paragon of Catholic virtue!

  • Dan

    Although Michael Potemra is very interested in Catholic affairs, judging by his posts in the NRO Corner, and generally seems to be a pretty good guy, he’s also a Protestant. Isn’t it a little odd, Thomas Peters, for you, the American Papist, to hold up a Protestant’s criticism of traditional Catholics as something to be taken seriously. How can you be the “American Papist” when you have to point to Protestants to support your case? I’d encourage everyone to have a look at the Dec. 14 RemnantTV episode for straight talk on what the problem is in the Church at present.
    And by the way, Catholics can walk and chew gum at the same time. Yes, our primary job is to grow in personal holiness; but that doesn’t mean we cannot have legitimate worries and criticisms.

  • Roy fletcher

    We are called to respect our Pope. We are called to serve God! All glory and honor to Our Lord. That’s the way I see Pope Francis. Clearly, a good man, a kind heart , and a different approach that the beloved john Paul II and Benedict. His vision is inspired by God just as theirs. However, our visions should also be inspired to be like Christ; live, love, give and take as Christ would. This is our mission as The Faith. Pope Francis is seeing to it that we do. He is a good Shepard just as the last two popes. I’m Catholic, because I love God and The Church. For ghis reason, I love Pope Francis because he was chosen by God and The Church.

  • Janet O’Connor

    I have to say that sadly since his election confusion reigns supreme. Just yesterday the Head of the CDF had to clarify yet again that the Bishop Conferences of themselves do not have any power of themselves in opposition to what was said in Joy of the Gospel. And the FFI mess as well continues its tragic saga.

  • Cody

    Opposite of orthodox is heterodox.



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